December 5, 2013

Gloria Steinem: Immigration Reform as Solution to Critical Caregiver Shortage

Gloria Steinem, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom two weeks ago, is now fighting for immigration reform. At first, it seems an odd cause for Steinem, best known as an activist for women.

Immigration Reform IS a Women's Issue
In an interview reported by the Washington Post, Steinem elaborated:
I want to correct the inaccurate image of immigration in the media. There is an idea that women's issues are over here and immigration reform is over there.
Three-quarters of undocumented workers are women and children. When the image in the media is potential terrorist or drug dealer or, at best, a male farm worker, it is an unrealistic portrayal of who immigrants really are.
We need to make sure that our news blogs and sources are more accurate about this imagery and what this nation needs as a workforce. There's an idea that high tech jobs, which culturally are still dominated by males, are more important than caregiving jobs, which culturally are still dominated by females. That is simply not true.
We live in a prosperous country and have a higher life expectancy and we need more caregiving workers. In the interest of accuracy and in supplying the expertise that this society really needs, I hope we can reflect reality in what we write into law.
Steinem expands on her theme in this video:
Huge Shortage of Caregivers Looms for Baby Boomers
Last summer AARP released a report, The Aging of the Baby Boomers and the Growing Care Gap. Several factors have created that gap:
  • the large baby boom population,
  • fewer children of baby boomer couples, compared with earlier generations, and
  • the increasing longevity of the boomers
The AARP report projects that by 2030 there will be only four potential caregivers (people 45-64) available for each person 80 or older. In 2010, there were seven caregivers for each person 80 or older.

Lynn Feinberg, an author of the report, cautioned:
It's a wake-up call for aging baby boomers. We're really moving toward an uncertain future . . . relying on our families and friends to provide long-term care isn't going to be realistic any more.
According to a recent story in Bloomberg, by 2020 the U.S. will require 1.6 million more direct-care workers than in 2010 -- a 48% increase for nursing, home-health, and personal-care aides over the decade.

Immigrants as Caregivers
In a November Health Affairs report, researchers from the RAND Corporation suggest that making it easier for immigrants to work as caregivers could ease the looming crisis. Foreign-born workers represent 21% of direct caregivers in America, according to the RAND report.

But today no employment-sponsored visas exist for direct-care workers, and most of the legal immigrants who do such work enter the U.S. on family-sponsored visas. An estimated one in five direct care workers is undocumented.

Canada has a program that allows people who don't qualify for other immigration programs to work in the country as live-in caregivers for two years, after which they can apply for permanent residency. That plan could serve as a model here, although critics say the Canadian program exploits immigrants.

I see the important caregiving role immigrants play every week at my Parkinson's support group. Most attendees rely on caregivers for transportation to and from the meetings. About half the caregivers are spouses; the rest are immigrants, mostly Filipinos, who seem to have a special affinity for this work.

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